|Page 2 (and continuing) -- Six Reasons Why I'm Committed
to Small Group Life
I have participated in small group life for the past seventeen years. Some groups have been terrific. Others, I would just as soon forget. But I am still committed to small group life because:
1) Small groups are biblical.
One of Jesus' first acts when he began his public ministry was to form a small group. In Mark's gospel we read, "He appointed twelve -- designating them apostles -- that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons" (Mark 3:14-15, NIV)
Jesus carried out his public ministry in the context of that small group. He spent three years with them in close fellowship. He asked them to join the group because he wanted their support and encouragement, he wanted to team with them in ministry. And he also wanted to establish a model for generations to come as the context in which we are to live out our journey of faith. Future generations would remember what Jesus had done, how he had called together his twelve, so we too would call together our twelve.
Thankfully, the early church followed Jesus' example. The saints gathered regularly in their homes for small group fellowship (Acts 2:42). Moreover, the Apostle John stressed group fellowship to those close to him. Writing to churches in the Asian province (modern Turkey) he reminded them, "If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, then we have fellowship with one another" (I John 1:7, RSV).
The Greek word John used for fellowship, "koinonia," is very interesting, referring as it does to a most intimate sort of association. Ed Bauman, A Methodist clergyperson, defines the word as "life-sharing." Thus, koinonia means much more than a kind of social interaction occurring at many fellowship halls or at church potluck suppers. Koinonia is the sort of in-depth camaraderie Jesus shared with his disciples.
So, when it came to small group life, Jesus modeled it, the early church practiced it, and the Apostle John proclaimed it.
2) Small groups allow me to rub shoulders with people of differing views.
I need those with whom I disagree to overcome “tunnel vision.” I need to be challenged, stretched, and called upon to think through my parochial views of the world. A small group helps me do that.
In my small groups I think of Hank, whose died-in-the-wool Republicanism differs from my Democratic Party leanings. Then there is Marna, whose biblical feminism makes me think about women and ministry in new ways. Marshall and Mona are a generation older than my wife, Trudy, and I. They help our group see what it is like to be parents of grown children. Without them, I would be even blinder to what my parents went through with me. Furthermore, as Marshall and Mona share their joys and sorrows over their children, they heighten my understanding and appreciation for my own parents.
3) A small group gives me a place to talk about spiritual things.
I can talk about the economy and my beloved UCLA Bruins in many places. But there are very few places where I fee free to talk about spiritual things. People in a small group provide the atmosphere and opportunity for such dialogue. They do not change the subject when I mention God.
A special place to share spiritual matters is especially helpful in my relationship with Trudy. It is not always easy to reach such a deep spiritual level. We seem quite able to talk easily about everything but spiritual matters. The cause may sometimes be time constraints, at other times it may be the fear of sharing such intimacy. A weekly small group provides a regular refuge (an oasis) in which we can share our spiritual experiences. I thank God for the small group that allows us to comfortably share our spiritual journeys and prayer concerns.
4) A small group helps me to experience the power of prayer.
A favorite moment for me in a small group is listening to others answer the question, “How can we be with you in prayer this coming week?” The reason? It is a prelude to power.
Through the years, members of my small group and I have witnessed terrific answers to our prayers. We would not have experienced them if we had not been asking for prayer and then listening for God’s response. The process of asking prepares us for receiving. As we ask, we begin looking for God to work. Without praying for specific people and situations, like Lynn’s difficult pregnancy and Marshall’s business ventures, we would not have waited so expectantly. As a result, we would have missed much of God’s daily working in our lives. The weekly discipline of sharing prayer concerns and praying for one another keeps me in touch with the power of prayer and the power, mercy, and wisdom of God.
5) A small group provides me with much needed support and encouragement.
As Jesus needed a handful of people “with him,” so do I.
This is especially true at two times – when I fail and when I dream. Our world can be tough on failures, and our dreams can be very fragile. In the midst of our failures and dreams, we need much nurturing and encouraging.
An incident from author Dr. Alan Loy McGinnis’ life comes to mind. At one time, back in my seminary days, Loy and I teamed together in ministry. He was the Senior Pastor, and I worked with Junior High students at the church. Since then, I have become a Senior Pastor myself, and Loy left pastoral ministry to counsel, write, and lead motivational conferences. He tells this personal story of support and encouragement:
I was once waiting to speak at a sales conference, when the year’s awards were being given to the outstanding salespeople. One woman, who had performed spectacularly that year and who had made an extraordinary amount of money, gave all the credit to her sales manager. As she stood before the crowd of 3,000 people, clutching the award for best producer of the year, she recalled the slump she had been in two years previously. The future had looked so bleak that she was ready to resign and had even called her supervisor several times to quit. But the manager kept persuading her that she had not tried long enough, that she would not have been hired if there had not been unusual potential in her. Her voice cracked as she related the story. Then she made this insightful remark: “For all those months when I wanted to quit and didn’t think I had any future, Joan believed in me more than I believed in myself. She wanted me to succeed more than I did.”
There are a dozen Joans in my small group, and they have encouraged me to do more than I ever thought possible.
6) A small group keeps me accountable.
At times I need a cheerleader. At other times I need a kick in the pants or someone to keep my feet to the fire. A small group does this for me.
I do not always remember to do what I say I will. At those times it is helpful when the group gathers the next week and says, “Well, Dick, how did your talk with your son go?” Or, “How many times did you have your quiet time last week?” It is good (most of the time!) to know people are going to take me at my word and check up on me the following week.
If they did not keep me accountable, I would let a lot slide.
Knowing I need to report in the next week keeps me on my toes. It also
causes me to think seriously about how I want the group to pray for me.
Unless I am serious about doing something, I had better not share it with
my group. If I am not serious, they will remind me of my intention and
ask if I really mean to do it. They can be tough, but they are so necessary
to my spiritual growth.